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Soybean Hulls

Highly fermentable “Super” fibres like Soybean hulls can provide the necessary fibre and nutrients your horse needs during a drought or dry spell

Dorothea Mackellar in her famous poem, “My Country (I love a sunburnt country)” described Australia as a land of droughts and flooding rains. This quote could not be more accurate when describing the extremes of the weather in Australia. When Ms Mackellar wrote this famous poem, she was describing not only the turbulent nature of the weather in Australia but also the harshness. Official records kept by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology indicate that we face a severe drought in this country every 18 years on average.

As a horse owner and horse lover, this has major significance for yourself. With dry conditions, the first main issue is not only the reduced amount of feed but also the reduced choices of feeds available. Speciality feeds and “limited production” feeds are first to go due to low demand and high prices. This is because the grains used in many processed feeds – barley, oats, wheat and their by-products like millrun and mill mix, are becoming scarce with strong competition from the human feed and livestock feedlot industries for the same products. Even your choices of hay start to become limited as unirrigated varieties die off, producing very poor yields while Lucerne (alfalfa) becomes the main variety available.

So, as a concerned horse owner, what can you do? What can you feed your horses during these times of drought when the choices are limited and the prices are high? Well, you do have options.

Fibre. It is the number one component of any horse’s diet. A daily feed must contain at least 50% fibre, preferably at a concentration of no less than 1% of the horse’s body weight. The most common source of fibre is grass or hay but during a drought, there is no grass (except close to the leaky tap) and hay now costs $25 to $40 a bale when it used to cost around $10 to $18. What are your alternatives? Chaff? Not really because it is just chopped up hay so it too is now becoming too expensive and chaff is actually only about 50% digested by the horse, meaning half of what you are feeding is just going in one end and out the other. You’re just increasing your work load cleaning up the stables. Straw? Nope. With an extremely high concentration of undigestible lignin, digestion of straw is below 40% and highly deficient in nutrient value. Keep that for bedding in your stables. So, what else?

Highly fermentable fibres or “super fibres” like Soybean Hulls!

I’m now going to be a little technical and explain what makes highly fermentable “Super” fibres like Soybean Hulls unique. Highly fermentable “Super” fibres are complex carbohydrates containing high levels of cellulose, hemicellulose, and pectin which can be readily fermented by the hindgut microbes, but contain much less of the non-digestible lignin than other fibre sources like hay and grass. They also contain high concentrations of readily degradable non-starch polysaccharides which are complex chains of sugars that are not digested in the small intestine but can be fermented in the hindgut but, unlike starch, are not used by microbes to produce lactic acid. These non-starch polysaccharides, when fermented by the microbes in the hindgut, produce large volumes of volatile fatty acids (VFA). These VFA are actually the primary source of energy for a horse, not sugars. VFA; mainly acetate, butyrate and propionate; are high-energy short-chain fats produced by microbes from fibre fermentation that travel safely through the blood (no insulin response unlike sugars) to be either converted in the liver to glucose or long-chain fats for storage, or used as an immediate energy source. Fats, in fact, contain up to 3-times the energy density of sugars.

As you can see (read), highly fermentable “Super” fibres like Soybean Hulls are quality sources of fibre which are readily digested in the body of the horse, providing a good supply of basic nutrients such as energy and protein and help keep the gut healthy. Australia grows very little soybean so nearly all Soybean Hulls are imported from overseas meaning their supply and are not affected by the dry conditions regularly experienced here in Australia.

Highly fermentable “Super” fibres like Soybean Hulls are not a replacement for hay or grass/pastures. Nothing is in fact! You need to feed that long stem fibre source to your horse always for many reasons, one important one being that the amount of saliva a horse produces increases by up to 10 times when chewing long stem fibre. This lubricates the feed before swallowing, preventing choke; secretes bicarbonate, a natural acid buffer, into the gut to help prevent gastric ulcers; lubricates the entire digestive tract to help prevent compaction colic; and keeps the hindgut environment moist, the ideal condition for the fermenting microbes that reside there. So, if they are not a replacement for hay and grass/pasture, why recommended them as a drought feed? Because, while they don’t replace hay and grass/pasture, they can reduce the amount needed to be fed each day. Many people chose to feed more chaff when things turn dry and hay is becoming sparse and expensive but, as I mentioned earlier, chaff is just cut hay meaning it becomes more expensive as hay prices rise and only about half of the chaff is digested by the horse, meaning half is wasted. Highly fermentable “Super” fibres like Soybean Hulls are more than 70% digested, mostly in the hindgut through fermentation, where they help produce vitamins and “cool” energy in the form of fats. On average, 1kg of a highly fermentable “Super” fibre like Soybean Hulls is equivalent to 1.5kg of chaff digestibility. All this means that you could potentially reduce the amount of hay you are feeding to your horse by up to 50% and substitute it with a quality highly fermentable “Super” fibre like Soybean Hulls and still provide plenty of fibre in the diet.

At Benchmark Feeds™, highly fermentable “Super” fibres in the form of Soybean Hulls form the basis of each and every feed. Benchmark Feeds™ understand that a horse needs to live and eat like a horse, meaning fibre is the most important ingredient in each and every horse’s diet. They also understand that sometimes it is difficult to source quality traditional fibre like hay and grass, especially during a drought, and what you can source during these times often cannot supply enough energy, protein and other nutrients needed to perform at their best, or even stay alive! Each Benchmark™ feed contains highly fermentable “Super” fibre Soybean Hulls of only the highest quality, sampled and analysed with each batch to ensure that only the highest quality of product is made available for your, the customer and, more importantly, your horse

Dr Mark Barnett (PhD)
MTB Equine Services
Equine Nutritional Consultant to Benchmark Feeds